1993-04 Bowl with Bird Hanging from Sky Band Design

Object ID:

Nampeyo 1 (unsigned)

Corn Clan, Tewa, Tewa Village

3.625"h X 10.50" w

Hopi white-slipped bowl with three-color polychrome Sikyatki abstract-avian image, tadpoles, and sky band by Nampeyo, ca.1895-1905.

Of all the Hopi, Hopi-Tewa and Nampeyo pots in the collection, 1993-04 is the pivotal piece. It is as close as I am likely to get to that moment when Polacca “D” pottery gave way to the more commercially successful Hano Polychrome/Sikyatki Revival ware that for the last 120 years has defined “Hopi pottery” in the market. Since Nampeyo uniquely contributed to this transition, bowl 1993-04 is also central to the story of her artistic development. If an Acoma-influenced jar is the earliest evidence of Nampeyo’s experimentation in this collection (2015-03) and the eagle-tail design of 2005-16 represents the perfection of her creative genius, bowl 1993-04 marks the critical juncture between her experimentation and artistic maturity.

Appendix B:

An extensive essay about this bowl, its place in Hopi-Tewa ceramic history and its importance to the development of Nampeyo’s classic style appears in Appendix B. Briefly, the slip on the interior of 1993-04 marks it as transitional between Polacca ware and Sikyatki Revival pottery. Its “Bird Hanging from Sky Band” design is taken directly from a specific Sikyatki bowl. By repeatedly drawing variations of this design from at least 1893 until the end of her paining career about 1920, Nampeyo developed six iconic design techniques that would mark her as a “genius” ceramicist. For the full argument, see Appendix B.

An early appreciation of Nampeyo:

In August 1896, while at Hopi to observe the Flute Ceremony at Walpi, Walter Hough and Jesse Fewkes visited Nampeyo to be instructed on pottery-making.  Hough wrote of this visit in a book published 19 years later.  While appreciative of the historic culture of the Hopi people, notice that his observations also mention the racism of his culture:

“Everyone who visits Tusayan (Hopi) will bring away as a souvenir some of the work of Nampeyo, the potter who lives with her husband (at)…Hano…Nampeyo is a remarkable woman.  No feeling of her racial inferiority arises even on the first meeting with this Indian woman, bare-foot, bonnetless, and clad in her quaint costume.  For Nampeyo is an artist-potter…(1915:75-76).”

At about the time that Nampeyo made bowl 1993-03, Walter Hough returned to the Hopi mesas as part of  The (Smithsonian) Museum –Gates Expedition of 1901.  In his report, he summarizes the history of pottery making at Hopi and recognizes Nampeyo:

“It appears that comparatively recently the potter’s art died out among the Hopi of Middle and East Mesas and that by the law of village specialization of an art, Orabi (on Third Meas) retained the making of pottery until shortly after 1872, when Dr. J. W. Powell visited the pueblo.  The later Orabi art shows marked Zuni influences.  The Tewans (on First Mesa), however, practiced the art uninterruptedly, and it has come to be that finally, at the close of the (current) period, the pottery used by the Hopi is of Rio Grande (Tewa) extraction, even though it has been throughly debased, like many of the arts of the American Indian.  Nampeyo, an intellignet Tewa woman, however, is endeavoring to revive the glories of former times (1903:347).”

Bowl 1993-04 is an example of precisely the effort by Nampeyo  that Hough saw as “endeavoring to revive the glories of former times.”

How can two colors become three?

Hough reports that Nampeyo used only two colors of pigment red and brown/black:

“The pigments..were of iron and earths, like those used by Nampeyo at Hano.  There are toho, or ironstone and sikyatoho, or yellow ocher; in unskilful hands these produce , the former dark brown answering to black, and the latter dingy reds.  Nampeo has in her recrudescence of the old art found it necessary to select these pigments for various qualities, depending on the purity or impurity of the material, or just as she also selects her clay.  Her efforts, while commendable, serve to heighten our appreciation of the discrimination of the ancient potters in selecting and handling their materials (1903:348).”

Note that Hough says  that only two colors were used to paint designs on Nampeyo’s pottery in 1896  and repeated this  statement 19 years later (1915:80).  This leaves me in a conundrum, since I clearly see three colors on bowl 1993-04. (Aside from the white kaolin wash of the background, which Hough acknowledges.) The yellow ocher sikyatoho fired to the red seen on bowl 1993-04, though this color varies from darker (the lunette) to watered-down and lighter (the tails) and in all cases is splotchy.  Its also clear that the taho (ironstone/hematite), that ground with an organic fixative, fired to the clear, solid black seen on bowl 1993-04.

How then did Nampeyo produce the brown color of the great loping arch on bowl 1993-04?  Clearly Nampeyo was willing to vary color by watering down her dark red paint. It seems that Nampeyo may also have played with her paints to get the color brown. Several streaks in the paint near the base of the brown arch offer an explanation. Particularly in these splotchy areas, a red undercoat shows through the brown. It looks this form might first have been painted with a water-down light red pigment, then overpainted with the black pigment: two paints becoming a third color, brown.

Barbara Kramer provides some evidence that supports this explanation.  During his 1896 visit to Hopi, Walter Hough purchased seven bowls for the National Museum, the “earliest documented examples of Nampeyo’s work (1996:62).”  One of these bowls is reprinted in color by Kramer (1996:147, plate 1).   A careful examination of this photograph reveals the same three colors present on bowl 1993-04 in this collection.  Two curvilinear “hills” are painted at the center of the design on Hough’s bowl, each divided vertically into half. The right half of the right hill and the left half of the left hill are the same brown color as in bowl 1993-04.  Over at least 19 years Hough maintained that Nampeyo only used two colors of paint on her pottery. Obviously he was familiar with the three colors on the 1896 bowl he bought for the National Museum and shown in Kramer’s book. The only way to get a third color and stay within Hough’s observations was to combine the two colors he acknowledged.  When Hough refers to “dark brown answering to black,”  I suggest he is confounding black paint with the brown created by overpainting red with black.  I do not see this explanation elsewhere in the literature and look forward to commentary by others who are familiar with Nampeyo’s pottery.

For superior examples of the use of color by ancient potters, Hough refers the reader to two bowls shown in color on Plate 98 in the 1903 report. The second bowl in Plate 98 was reproduced by an unknown potter and is included in this collection as 2015-10.  Like its prehistoric forbearer, the colors of 2015-10 are startling.



Purchase History:
Purchased from Rick Dillingham, 5/17/93 during a visit to his home. This was the last pot I bought from him before his death the following January.